This distinctive book with its bright orange cover – in complete contrast to the story within – sat winking at me for some time as I worked my way towards it through a stack of books. It was during this time that it sat there – within reach but unreachable due to my other commitments – that I read a review in The Guardian. Discovering from this glowing review that the book contained an unlikely scenario of a distraught man travelling with the corpse of his lover across country to her reburial, I am homeless if this is not my home, slipped even further down my list of priorities, until one day I could no longer ignore it. From that moment I was hooked.
Still alienated by the ludicrous notion of a man making love to a decaying corpse, but hooked nonetheless.
Moore’s writing is compelling. The reader completely enters the scenes she sets; and these scenes are not your usual lyrical offerings. For example, the book opens with the dishevelled central character, Finn, driving across town to a hospice to visit his dying brother Max. In conversation with Max, it is revealed that Finn has been dismissed from his teaching role after the principal’s wife made a failed pass at him.
Also uncovered during Finn’s hapless attempts to keep his brother engaged and alive are the multiple attempts at suicide his estranged girlfriend, Lily, continues to make.
It’s ironic that these depressing scenarios engage the reader. Engross might be a better word. I was completely hooked, not just by the magnificence of the writing, but also by the sub-story of letters from another era. I really wanted to know how these two stories – separated generationally, as well as geographically – tied together. In the end they did, but not before my imagination had been mightily stretched with descriptions of a desperate and deranged man making love to a dead woman.
So, where am I going with this? I guess I am saying: proceed with caution. Moore’s writing is genius, and she’s long been lauded for it. For the past almost 30 years she’s been the Delmore Schwartz Professor in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has won numerous literary prizes since 2010 when she was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. This brings me back to the cover of this version of the book – with its bright orange cover. I’ve seen another version and this seemed to better alert the reader to the type of book they are buying. So I remain curious, despite having found within the unlikely scene to which it most likely relates.
If you are a fan of great writing, if you love zombie movies, if you like a good yarn, and if you have respect for the brave writers who push us to confront our own fears and preconceptions, then this book is for you.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Allen & Unwin